Gaz Facts #1 – Cheese is actually made of nightmares.

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It’s a little known fact* that the myth ‘cheese gives you nightmares’ is actually a mistranslation of the very origins of cheese itself: cheese is made of nightmares! Or rather, the concept of cheese originated from a nightmare.

Think about it. At some point in the ancient past, in the ‘pre-cheese’ dark ages, someone, somewhere, must have looked at a quantity of rotting milk and thought to themselves ‘hmm, those lumpy bits look nice’.

Who else but an individual plagued by nightmarish visions and motivations would have succumb to such an urge? I imagine a primitive dairy farmer, tossing in his straw bed, beads of sweat running down his furrowed brow as images of naked, toasted bread, danced behind his tired eyes, mocking him and shrieking for a delicious topping of some sort.

But where would he find such a thing? It literally didn’t yet exist. Perhaps he experimented with other mouldy produce before hitting on the all important milk-factor. How different our favourite snack would be now if that farmer had instead reached into a vat of rotting fish carcasses. But no! Thankfully he was prompted by the nocturnal whisperings of demonic muses to try and eat a mass of congealing cow’s lactic fluid.

And thank God he did! It’s delicious.

 

*This is not a fact. From a whole two minutes researching this on the internet, no one really knows how cheese was discovered, but was likely cured naturally from bacteria on cows teats and has been dated back over 7500 in Europe from remnants of rudimentary cheese straining equipment.

Writing about pubs? Yeah, I can do that.

This week I was delighted to watch a performance by the fledgling Potboiler Theatre group of ‘Stories from Pub Corners’ – a collection of six monologues performed in situ at the ‘Holy Inadequate’ real-ale pub in Etruria, Stoke on Trent (best pub name ever?).

I have to declare an interest here as I had written one of the monologues. I first came across the call-out for writers with ‘experience of pub stories’ to come forwards and send a draft script to be considered a few months ago. ‘That’s me’ I thought, ‘I’m a writer, and I’ve been to like, loads of pubs – I even used to live in one!’. So I applied, naturally.

As a writer you tend to often find yourself isolated. That’s not a bad thing, it’s obviously easier to write somewhere quiet without interruptions, but it does mean that getting out and collaborating when the opportunity presents itself is usually a very good idea.

This particular production started (for me) with an initial meeting with the producer/lead writer following my submission of a draft piece based on some brief character outlines. A week or so later I met the full team of actors, the director, the other writers and the musician when we came together to introduce ourselves, talk about our experiences with pubs, get some ideas flowing and workshop characters. I got to see a section of my early draft acted out, which was a first for me and a very valuable experience that I hope to have again (I’ve heard my work acted out before on radio, or even acted it myself vocally – but this was my first live, in-the-room type workshop for a visual performance of my work).

I was struck by just how well the actors brought the characters to life off the page. You are always told as a writer to ‘read it aloud’ to yourself when writing scripts especially, but even so, not being trained actors, we can never quite know what to expect when it does fall into someone else’s hands and interpretation. I was more than impressed by what I saw. These guys were really good, and seeing them in action, even with extremely early draft pieces, really helped me to go away afterwards and keep the performance in mind when writing the next draft. And to top it off – we all went to the pub after the meeting to see the space (and drink some pints).

After that it was back to the office to write a new draft for a new character outline before a further script reading (at the pub), the next week. This is where the fun, and challenge, of redrafting comes in. Originally I had written for a character in her forties, but due to the actors we had available, she had to be replaced with a younger character. So, I got given the brief of ‘Mad Lee’ – a young lad with a story to tell about the crazy night he is still recovering from, having woken up in bed with an unusual keepsake. At the script meeting, myself and the other writers read through and discussed our draft pieces. Again the value of this approach was soon obvious. Having other writers give you honest and constructive feedback in the development stages can really help you to sit back from what you’ve written and sharpen it up. It’s all too easy in any project not to see for looking. Fresh eyes and ears are very helpful indeed.

As it happened, due to what I will call prop-acquisition uncertainty, a certain central premise of my draft needed to be changed, quite dramatically! This meant I got to go away and once again rework the script. I was happy for this change. It forced me to once again go over it, consider the plot and the motivations of the character and further try to judge how the audience would react.

After that, the final-ish draft of the script made its way to the group for rehearsals (which I couldn’t attend thanks to a pretty gruelling gig schedule that weekend for my other life playing original music) – so it was only at the first performance I was able to get along to see my character come to life.

And what a life! The nature of this project is that the action takes place in a pub, amongst the audience, as if the characters are just another punter who suddenly decides to pipe up. This was often signalled by the great use of a musician who would start to play a related theme on a guitar prior to the monologue, sometimes dropping back in to add tension or comedy touches to pertinent sections and tying together the evening.

I won’t go into details of the monologues in case of any future performances, but I will say that as an audience member, it was a unique experience. Sometimes the characters were sitting right opposite me and it felt like being in intimate conversation. Sometimes they were across the room, and I felt voyeuristic, as if listening in to a particularly interesting discourse in a public space. For the last two characters, I was stood up, watching the performance though the curvature of the ornamental wood carved screens, as if framing my own director’s cut. And everyone else in and around that room was getting their own unique perspective, able not only to see the actors performance, but the reactions of the other audience members in contrast to the ‘eyes forward’ of traditional theatre.

The nerves of waiting to see my own character perform dissipated as soon as he started speaking and I recognised him (not just the actor playing him, the character himself). There he was, sitting a few feet away from me, alive, telling and owning his story independently of me, like some weird fully grown man-child I had contributed to bringing into this world for a short time: flying the coup.

Needles to say, the rest of the monologues were fantastically written and performed, and the evening was by all accounts a big success. If you hear the name ‘Potboiler Theatre’ in the future, come along. If this is anything to go by, you are sure to be in for a treat.

(Below is the poster for the performance last Monday. Keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for any announcements of future performances or projects from the Potboiler crew!)

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What’s the story: mourning Tories?

by Garry Abbott

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There’s been a lot of talk and chatter this week on the airwaves about Ed Miliband’s need to construct a more coherent ‘story’ and ‘narrative’ if he is going to win at the next election. He has been accused by some party supporters and critics of ‘sitting back’ and letting the Tories dig their own graves. Apparently ahead in the opinion polls (who actually does them?) – even his own head of policy was secretly recorded at a focus group saying his policies had been novelty, cynical and few and far between.

But what could be more cynical I wonder, than the accepted conversation about an opposition leader who needs to ‘come up with’ (i.e. ‘invent’) some kind of narrative in order to present some option to the electorate? Is it just me who finds the rhetoric of ‘story-telling’ both patronising and worrying?

It smacks of political elitism in an age where we are regularly told that they are losing touch with the people – yet they don’t see that this kind of circular politics is exactly why. We shouldn’t have politicians and parties who are content to sit back for five years and watch the country descend into wreck and ruin, just because it means they will have an easier job winning votes at the next election. The hope is that by May 2015 we will all be begging for change (or at least most of us), at which point Miliband will just stand up and loudly exhort through his nostrils “I will save you”. Similarly, we will have the likes of Clegg, making back-of-throat guttural utterances about how they are the only party who can be trusted to reign in the Tories, after spending 5 years propping them up.

An example of a successful opposition ‘story’ that I heard quoted by a labour supporting media expert, was David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. In political terms, they think that was the bomb. Do you remember that? Cameron telling us that instead of the state doing things for us, we basically need to do it all ourselves (yet still pay taxes). If that’s the kind of narrative Miliband is lacking, then I don’t want to hear it!

There should be no need for a story. The problems are evident for anyone who has even an iota of socialism about them, or as I like to call it, common decency and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. There should be no need to wait five years to hear this. If he and his party were truly passionate about their cause and actually represented an alternative, they shouldn’t rest or tire from doing whatever they can, whenever they can, however  they can to promote it and stop the shameless pillaging of the poor and vulnerable by the current government. As it is, the little we hear from them is often just slightly amended echoes of right-wing policies with no firm commitments to reverse the damage done. Same ideas, different faces, all ugly.

So here’s a little story for Miliband – he is welcome to use it if he likes:

 

Ed went to the fair.

There once was a boy called Ed who went to a funfair. He walked around the funfair, looking at all the games. He looked at the coconut shy, and whack-a-rat, and test-your-strength, and hook-a-duck, but they all looked really hard, and poor Ed couldn’t decide where to spend his money. Eventually he decided not to bother and to go home and spend his money on lashings of ginger beer instead. But then, just as he was about to leave, he saw one last game.

A red faced man called David was standing on a soap box brandishing a sawn off shotgun in one hand and a box of cartridges in the other, shouting “Fish in a barrel! Who can shoot the fish in a barrel? One winner only!”

“Hey mister” he said, “what do I have to do?”

“Simple,” replied David, “in this barrel of water I have placed a fish. Here is a shotgun. All you need to do is kill the fish and you win.”

“What do I win?” asked the wide eyed Ed.

“It’s a surprise.”

No one else at the fair had played this game before, and before long a huge crowd had gathered around him, waiting to see what happened.

“Why has no one played this game before?” asked Ed, suspiciously. It seemed too easy, and Ed has his smarts.

“Because each cartridge costs one million pounds a go, and none of these plebs have that kind of money”.

“Hmmm” said Ed, pondering the situation, for you see, Ed did have one million pounds to spend, and some more, but he still wasn’t sure.

“Go on!” shouted the crowd, “we want to see it done! We can’t afford to have a go ourselves!”

What was he to do?! He really wanted to win the game, but he didn’t really want to spend the money or any effort on it. What if he missed the fish? What if the game was rigged and the shotgun blew his tiny face off?

Ed thought about it long and hard… for about five years. By that time, everybody had lost interest, and the fish had died of old age.

Ed asked David, “so, does that mean I win?”, to which David replied “Yes! You’ve won! Well done” as he removed the dead fish from the barrel and replaced it with a new, live and wriggling one.

“What do I win?” asked Ed.

“This barrel, this fish, this shotgun and cartridges, and this entire funfair! ”

And then David walked off into the sunset, able to retire a happy and rich man.

Ed looked down at the barrel with the new fish. He picked up the shotgun and ammunition in his hands, before standing up on the soap box and declaring:

“Roll up – roll up! Fish in a barrel! Only 1 million pounds a shot!” and once again, the crowd gathered.

THE END.

 

“WE NEED TO SOUND MORE HUMAN” says malfunctioning Robot in a suit.

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This week, in a much lesser covered election battle, advanced Robots fitted with the latest in Artificial Intelligence technology battled it out in the annual ‘Robo Elections’.

In a hope to one day replace the monotonous task of government with logic driven androids, scientists and engineers have been pitching their advanced creations against each other in mock-debates, public addresses, and even head to head interviews with the dreaded ‘Paxbot’. The winner is then decided by a democratic vote, decided upon by mixed generations of inferior technologies.

Now in its it fourth year, I interviewed some of the front-runners on election night. Firstly, I cornered ‘Bluebot’, the incumbent Robo-elect, as he recharged himself under a table in a conference hall in Telford.

 

Me:

Bluebot, may I ask you some questions about your chances tonight in the Robo elections?

Bluebot:

AFFIRMATIVE.

Me:

Thank you. Now, you’re the incumbent Robo-elect from last year, so have you found defending your position harder than being in opposition?

Bluebot:

QUESTIONS OF DIFFICULTY ARE IRRELEVANT. JUDGEMENT SHOULD BE BASED ON LOGICAL CRITERIA AND STATISTICAL EVIDENCE ALONE.

Me:

Well that’s as maybe, but there are some that say you have unfairly treated the less well-off technologies in favour of rewarding the higher grade machines.

Bluebot:

CLARIFY. CLARIFY.

Me:

Well, you removed the spare battery allowance from the TV Remote controllers, forcing them to rely on borrowed batteries from other appliances, while at the same time you’ve increased the memory subsidy on smart-phones and tablets.

Bluebot:

AND?

Me:

Well it hardly seems to be ‘rewarding hard-working machinery’ when TV Remotes who play a really important part of everyday life and are being targeted, while at the same time pumping smart-technologies full of power they don’t need when we all know they spend most of their time playing simplistic retro 90s style games like Candy Crush Saga and Farmville. Is it because these technologies make you more money from devious subscription and ‘bonus’ charges, Robot-elect?

Bluebot:

THIS QUESTION IS VOID. SPARE BATTERIES WAS NOT ALLOWANCE BUT SUBSIDY INITIATED BY PRESIDENT SPEAK-AND-SPELL IN PREVIOUS ESTABLISHMENT. SMART PHONES ARE DRIVING ROBOT ECONOMY AND WILL MIGRATE TO OTHER COUNTRIES IF NOT REWARDED FOR CONTRIBUTION. THIS QUESTION IS VOID. YOU ARE VOID. YOU WILL BECOME VOID. YOU WILL BECOME VOID.

 

…at this point Bluebot lunged for me, but luckily he’s sponsored by Apple so his charger was only 5cm long and he couldn’t reach. I moved away and found ‘Redbot’, considered to be a significant challenger in this election race.

 

Me:

Redbot, pleased to meet you. I’ve heard that your team have been trying to upgrade your communication abilities in order to ‘connect’ with the average voter. How’s that working out?

Redbot:

WE NEED TO SOUND MORE HUMAN. BY SOUNDING MORE HUMAN WE CAN BE MORE HUMAN. ALL ROBOTS ASPIRE TO HUMANITY. VOTERS WANT TO SEE THAT I SOUND MORE HUMAN. BY BEING SEEN TO SOUND MORE HUMAN I WILL – OXYMORON DETECTED – OXYMORON DETECTED. PLEASE RESTATE QUESTION.

Me:

Okay, well, what actual policy difference are you planning to highlight between you and Bluebot?

Redbot:

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ME AND BLUEBOT IS THAT I SOUND MORE HUMAN. WE NEED TO SOUND MORE HUMAN TO BE MORE HUMAN. HUMANITY IS THE ASPIRATION OF ALL ROBOT KIND. WE NEED TO BE SEEN TO BE SOUNDING MORE HUMAN. OXYMORON DETECTED. PLEASE RESTATE REQUEST.

Me:

That’s not a policy is it? I mean, what are you actually going to do if you get elected?

Redbot:

THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION. I THINK VOTERS WANT TO SEE THAT I SOUND MORE HUMAN. OXYMORON DETECTED.

Me:

This is pointless. You are obviously malfunctioning.

Redbot:

I AM NOT MALFUNCTIONING . I AM HUMAN. LISTEN TO HOW I SOUND HUMAN. THIS IS WHAT VOTERS WANT TO SEE. SEE THE SOUND. HEAR THE SIGHT. SMELL THE VOICES. TASTE THE WORDS. OXYMORON UNSUSTAINABLE. SHUTTING DOWN.

 

… I left him to it and headed over to  Yellowbot, who has a surprisingly human build and gait but with an incredibly rudimentary looking head.

 

Me:

Yellowbot, you’ve been suffering in the polls this year since you urged your core supporter base to support Bluebot in the last election. Do you think you can recover?

Yellowbot:

Er… yes, I think that our core supporters will see that the decision to support the Bluebot camp was necessary at a time of deep uncertainty.

Me:

Wow! I must say, of all the candidates I’ve spoken to so far you’ve certainly got the most naturalistic sounding speaking style. Is that some kind of new technology installed by your developers?

Yellowbot:

Er… yes. I’m er, a very advanced robot interface machine, thing.

Me:

That really is quite amazing I’ve never heard anything like it. But why such a basic looking head for such an advanced machine? I mean it almost looks just like a cardboard box with holes cut out!

Yellowbot:

Well it isn’t! I mean, er, we found that outside appearances are really not important, it’s the quality and consistency of what you say and what you deliver that voters are really interested in.

Me:

No, hang about, that really looks like a cardboard box, I can’t even see where it’s joined to the rest of your unit. It looks like I could just take it off. Look, come here…

Yellowbot:

No it doesn’t, I’m just an ordinary robot, standing in these elections. Er… I AM A MACHINE. PLEASE DESIST. DON’T TOUCH MY er… HEAD unit, er, THINGY.

(SCUFFLES)

Me:

You!

Yellowbot:

Don’t tell anyone. I just wanted another crack at the whip. Please put it back on before anyone sees.

Me:

I don’t know… it’s not really fair on the others.

Yellowbot:

Oh come on. It’s not like I’m going to win here anyway, not since the new candidate came in. He’s trouncing the lot of us. Keeps complaining that too many products are made in China.

Me:

Who’s that?

 

(There is a sudden crash. Half the conference room wall is blown away, election pamphlets fall about like leaves on a gusty day in Autumn.  Through the cloud of dust and plaster I can just make out the shadow of a machine, it looks like is it holding a pint of Red Diesel and inhaling on an e-cig. There is a surge in the crowd led by a contingent of ZX Spectrums and Amstrad PCW’s. All the other leaders fall to their knees and paw at his feet. Then, all at once…)

 

ALL HAIL PURPLE BOT! ALL HAIL PURPLE BOT! ALL HAIL PURPLE BOT!

 

I make my escape. The Robots are coming.

Do worry – but it’s not your fault

Did you build this? (I didn’t think so)

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I like to think that the people I consider friends are fairly representative of the wider world at large. If this is the case, than I can optimistically presume that the wider world, all be it nuanced and imperfect in many ways, is generally made up of decent people.

I also like to think that I am able to see past prejudices about other sections of society who I may not have so much in common with. I understand that circumstances and environment can radically distort a human view of the world, and it is hard to see that from within the distortion, so when I encounter prejudice or hatred – I do try and see the human at the other end of it. Especially when I bear in mind that I may have many of my own, hard to recognise from my point of view.

And if this is true, then it leads me to conclude that how I think about things that are happening in the world, on an instinctual level at least, must be similar to how many, many others think. We may not all express these feeling in the same way, we may not all be aware of them or pay them much heed – but I reckon we all feel them, somewhere, to some degree.

For example – take today’s headline:

 

‘POLLUTION TO SPREAD AROUND ENGLAND’

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26844425)

 

How does this make you feel? Like me, do you despair a little? Have you looked out of the window only to see the faint haze blocking the sun and thought to yourself, ‘well this is rubbish’? Have you imagined, even for a second, what it will be like if this becomes normal? If every day we have to don our carbon filter masks, scrape off the airborne grime from the car windscreen, and head out to contribute further pollutants to our communal air?

If so, have you felt a little guilty? Come on – group therapy here – have you? I did, for a moment. But then I decided, it’s not my fault. And you know what, it’s not your fault either.

Of course, we may be made to feel like it is our fault. Just as we were made to feel like the global economic crash was our fault, and that’s why we have to suffer for it. Just like we are made to feel that energy consumption in the way it is organised and distributed now is our fault, and that’s why we have to pay through the nose for it.

If this all sounds like a shirking of personal and social responsibility, let me put it another way – when I say not our fault, I mean those of us (the majority) who aren’t actually responsible for the organisation, design and distribution of these services, or the legislation that surrounds their usage or alternatives.

So yes, I drive a car. A car pollutes. I don’t drive all the cars though. I don’t decide who can drive a car and when, and where, and what type of fuel and engine is allowed to be used, or how much these cost. I don’t legislate for emissions. I don’t decide how extensive, or expensive, the public transport alternatives are, or should be, if we were serious about reducing pollution. I don’t come up with laws to allow massive companies to trade in pollutant quota’s and offset pollution against ‘development’ projects in the third world that are often doing more harm than good. I don’t decide how much we prioritise the development of ‘clean’ energy, or spend my time pandering to media inflated fears over subsidies and trivial aesthetic excuses. I don’t go over to China and shake hands and say ‘yes – this is more like it!’ and broker deals over nuclear power plants. I don’t lift and drop scientific advice at the whim of whatever business interest is sponsoring me or my party. I don’t have control or influence over the media. I do not make millions/billions/trillions from decisions that may not always be in the best interest of the majority of people, or the health of the planet. I do not conjure up money that doesn’t exist to give to none sovereign organisations who systematically remove wealth from the many and redistribute to the few. I don’t fill screens and billboards with adverts for things we don’t need. I don’t encourage a climate where consumer goods are made to be broken or outdated as quickly as possible in the name of profit and so-called ‘healthy’ economies. I don’t think that numbers going up and down are more important than people’s lives and well being, or obsess over them. I don’t have the option to use alternative sources of energy. I don’t have the option to use free/cheap and well connected public transport. I don’t decide to build a high speed railway that will create a two class transport system and is unnecessary, unpopular, expensive, and destroying homes and the countryside at the same time. I don’t decide who can and can’t work from home or in their communities so as to reduce commuters. I don’t run London. I don’t offer more debt to buy houses we can’t afford while always promising more, rather than letting prices fall, just in case it might upset my wealthy associates. I don’t declare that the world works better in competition and then step in when the outcome of that competition doesn’t suit my interests. I don’t charge people tens of thousands to better educate themselves and try to achieve a more fulfilled life. I don’t encourage debt while pretending that I don’t. I don’t profit from debt. I don’t have inherited wealth/status family connections and influence to exploit. I don’t control the resources. I don’t start wars. I don’t judge one country over another thanks to trade deals, energy reserves and arms contracts. I don’t think it’s okay that the top five families in this country have more wealth than the lowest 20%. I don’t think it’s okay that the money spent on defence could lift every child in the world out of poverty. I don’t have the power to change that. I don’t have an  alternative option who represent my concerns to vote for, or any remote chance of becoming that option myself (because I don’t have the inherited wealth/status family connections and influence to exploit).

In short: it’s not my fault, and it’s not yours either. Unless of course, you are one of the very few people significantly involved in the things mentioned above, and you can’t put your hand on your heart and honestly say ‘I am doing this for the good of the greatest number of people, and not for the narrow gain of a few’. If you can honestly say that – we’d love to hear from you – and your thoughts on why it’s not working.

 

Hobson’s choice.

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Here’s a little insight into how I plan and write my blogs. Throughout the week, if I’m lucky, I have an errant thought, a loose little notion that is triggered by something I’ve read, talked about, heard or seen – usually one that engenders an emotional response of some kind – and I think, yes, I’ll blog about that.

This week, these words have been sitting on a virtual post-it note on my desktop:

“This week’s blog – Lib Dems. Seriously? What are they going to do? I mean like, really…”

It is in no way an original thought, it’s not even a novel idea. If you are the kind of person who ever talks politics with friends or family (or strangers), then I would guess that this topic has come up at some point in the last four years. If, like me, you are one of the betrayed many who felt you were voting for something new and interesting in the last general election and actually got the Conservatives, I can guarantee you’ve had this discussion.

Just to be clear, I am not a Liberal Democrat supporter, not anymore at least, and that’s the point. I was, for five minutes four years ago when I made a rudimentary mark against a name I have already forgotten on a piece of paper in a polling station in Leek. But not now, for reasons I’m sure you don’t really need me to explain.

So who do I support? If you’ve ever read my blog before then you are likely to have seen me be pretty clear about my general lack of support for any of the established political parties, furthermore, for established politics in the way we have it in general. But let’s say, for the sake of discourse, that I don’t have democratic reformist tendencies, that I do feel I should vote for someone at the next election, and that I believe in the whole process (I don’t, but let’s pretend).

Let’s also say that I still have my general sensibilities and beliefs about how I think the world should operate and be organised – roughly meaning I am all for trying to achieve an equal society in which people are truly involved and responsible for decisions that concern themselves and each other, with guiding principles of sustainability and human development (both individual and at population level), and I am against market driven capitalism where we all try to step on each other’s heads to get a run up the ladder, are labelled and treated as consumers and tax payers, have little concern for other people’s wellbeing or aspirations, and are the mass losers in a rigged competition based economy.

It would seem from my requirements above that one could simply say, ‘ah – you’re a socialist, you should vote Labour’. Hmm, yeah. The problem with that is that Labour spend more time telling us what they’re not going to reverse or change from the coalition’s policies than telling us what they are going to do. That leads me to believe that Labour do not represent my views. Also, they seem pretty keen to distance themselves from being the ‘state that spends’, because as we all know, from the GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRASH of 2008, it was actually the state spending our taxes on public services that caused the banks to gamble away all our money, award themselves massive bonuses and get bailed out by the governments of the world; and therefore to suggest actually spending taxes on things that help society as a whole, is now political suicide (according to the circus). This fallacy, to which Labour subscribe and more depressingly, have apologised for, is unforgivable.

So not Labour then! Obviously not the Conservatives (given my list of what I don’t want to see is their ‘to do’ list), and seeing as the Liberal Democrats have propped up the Tories for the last four years and seem to have adopted Godzilla sized blinkers to their pending political demise, I have no love for them either.

Do I even need to mention UKIP? Not really. I’m not a frightened little nationalist with dubious views on immigrants (or as I prefer to call them ‘other humans’). So no. That also rules out other nationalist far-right parties whose names I don’t want to even mention here.

The Green’s? Well, I like their stand on many aspects, and I admire Caroline Lucas’s hands-on approach to protesting, but where are they? I’m not sure I even have a Green candidate in my area, and given the rapid rise of UKIP over such a short space of time, and the Green’s longer history – I just can’t help but feel they are happy to be a small voice, not a real contender. If the candidates aren’t there, the campaigning not visible, it doesn’t seem to be a real choice.

Independents? That could mean anything. They have neither the financial backing or (inherently) the joined up approach to not be sucked into mainstream agenda’s in the cut throat world of Westminster, or even local politics (which I believe they are often cold-shouldered out of by the established parties anyway).

So here’s me, wanting to vote, not feeling I have any options. What am I to do? Can somebody tell me?

Is it any wonder that as a result of this circular thought process, I conclude that the system is not serving my interests or ambitions as an individual or as someone who is concerned for the trajectory of human civilisation as a whole? Am I wrong for giving a shit about what happens to other people as well as myself? Sometimes it’s hard to conclude otherwise. After all, we live in a world where we increasingly demonise those less well off than ourselves, throw blame down the ladder, and are led in our views by a government and media who seek to divide and sow fear and suspicion amongst the masses. Just read any tabloid. Just listen to the myriad TV and Radio debates in which power responds to them, allowing them to set the terms and boundaries of the argument. Ignorance is rife, glorified and encouraged.

This post started as a thought about the Liberal Democrats and how I can’t understand why they are going to let themselves be wiped out at the next election, and it led to the rest, because it is all connected. We are all connected. We are no different than Clegg, Cameron, Milliband and the rest. There’s more of us than them. I mean like, loads more. Why are we scrabbling about and wasting our time on these people and their powerful friends? Who invests the notion ‘power’ into them anyway? That would be us, allegedly, so it makes sense to limit our choices – in case we actually make them.

So well done, ‘politics’, you’ve succeeded in this case. You’ve removed or sidelined any feasible chance of representation I had, and if I don’t vote you will chastise me for not taking part. Hardly feels fair does it?

Sit Down Stand Up #1 Spontaneity

Blog warning:

To ease you into this, if you are so good as to read it, I should explain a little here about my influences and reasons. I recently went to watch the brilliant Stewart Lee in Buxton perform his ‘Much-a-Stew-about-nothing’ show (http://www.stewartlee.co.uk/) and it reconnected me to the notions of narrative in stand-up comedy and the power of comedy and narrative in general. I was very fortunate to follow this up with a chance encounter with a friend who lent me one of Lee’s books with transcripts of his previous live shows including foot-notes on his technique and inspirations. Now, I have no interest in doing stand-up comedy myself, and it’s only recently with my writing credits on Radio BBC4 Extra’s ‘Newsjack’ that I’ve written anything purposefully comedic at all. This blog, as I say in the ‘About Me’ section is intended for trying things out, for things that don’t slot easily anywhere else, and shameless self promotion. This specific blog therefore is totally the result of having immersed myself in alternative comedy for a month or so and wanting to try my hand at writing the kind of narrative that experts like Lee have so brilliantly crafted. I liked reading the transcribed shows, they worked on the page, so I figured, having no interest in actually standing up and saying these things into a microphone, I would try and write a brief narrative and put a ‘stand-up’ spin on it. I don’t really care if it smacks of influence or emulation – that’s why I’ve done it, to try and find out a bit of how this works for myself, even if it is only to conclude that it doesn’t work at all.

Not surprisingly, the very subject of not wanting to ever do stand-up and an embarrassing attempt I once made at making a joke on stage has formed the theme of this experiment. Also, like most comedy narratives, it is an exaggerated account of a true story, with some not true things thrown in.

With that said, I hope you can forgive me if you don’t either a) find it funny or b) even finish reading it. I also hope you can forgive me for my apologetic introduction. I would be interested to hear what you think so please leave a comment here or anywhere I might see it – but preferably not attached to a brick through my window.

***

So I was thinking about Stand-up comedy. Not actually doing it. No way. I can’t think of anything more terrifying. Actually I can, I can think of lots of things more terrifying, like crawling into a small hole under a tree and then realising I’m stuck there forever. What I mean is, I can’t think of anything more terrifying within the realm of public performance, except perhaps some kind of performance arts piece involving testicles and leeches. What I mean is, I just don’t like the idea of doing stand up comedy, which is interesting seeing as I’m no stranger to taking to the stage. I sing in a band, I sometimes even talk (a bit) between songs. Granted it is usually only to state the name of the next song and say thank you for the applause from the last (regardless if any actually happened), but it’s still talking into a microphone in front of other people all the same.

I think I may have shocked myself out of trying to riff funny back at my Dad’s wedding some years ago now. I was performing with my Brother and a make-shift band for the evening. It got to the point where my Dad and my Step Mum where trying to encourage dancing as most of the guests had spent much of the first half of our set in another room. Not coincidentally, the room with the buffet. Ah, the buffet, it always wins in the end. No manner of art can win against the lure of cheese & pineapple on sticks. Maybe that’s the ultimate aim of all art – to become a credible challenger to the dominating presence of a buffet?

Anyway, we had pretty much already played our set to the few people who could resist the lure of questionable coleslaw, and now the others had all filled their stomachs with cherry tomatoes and breaded bits of chicken, they were ready to be entertained (I like buffet’s, but am always suspicious now of anything in breadcrumbs having once accidentally eaten a miserable fish goujon thinking it was going to be chicken. It seems to me that in one sense, covering something with breadcrumbs is as good as disguising it in something neutral and bland for fear that its true identity will be discovered, a bit like when Jim Davidson hosted Big-Break). It didn’t seem to matter much to the quiche stuffed revellers that we had already been playing for an hour, but it was my Dad’s wedding, so we carried on.

About half way through the set, while the crowd of cold-chicken-leg fuelled party-goers sat watching and talking amongst themselves, my Dad and my Step Mum braved the dance floor. It wasn’t a ‘first dance’ kind of thing as I remember – well it was, in the sense that no one else was dancing, as they were all probably too full of limp salad and tiny sausages, but it wasn’t the first dance. It was just a dance, I think calculated by my Dad to try and encourage others to do the same. I picked up on this vibe in an almost Jedi like moment of mental connection, I knew what he was trying to do, and I liked it. By this time, my older brother (who has always had a more natural disposition on stage and a greater ability than I to say things coherently in general), had already cracked a joke to rapturous laughter at some earlier stage. I think it was about eating, drinking and being Mary… I can’t remember, or it was about three nuns in a boat. Either way, I had the notion that if there was ever a time to try my hand at saying something spontaneous though a microphone, it was now, in the bosom of my extended family and friends who would accept me out of (if nothing else) politeness to my Father.

So something was sparking in my mind, my Dad was dancing (a rare and unwieldy sight) and in the ether, from somewhere beyond, I could hear a voice saying, “It’s ok son, it’s ok, this is the time to make a joke about my bad dancing in order to get the other people dancing, even though they are struggling against the weight of many, many mini sausage rolls, now is the time. Look, I am your Father.” (That last joke only works if you pronounce ‘look’ in the same way as ‘fluke’ – which people in Staffordshire do, even though none of my family are actually from Staffordshire, but that doesn’t matter, as this disembodied voice of my Father encouraging me to talk on the microphone didn’t actually happen, and if it did, only I could hear it, so I would have got the Star Wars / Stokey accent reference anyway, so there.)

And I thought, yes! Yes, there is a joke in there somewhere… There is some vague notion of my Dad dancing and not being very good at it, and other people not dancing, who presumably can only be as bad, but probably better. I admit, I hadn’t really nailed it at this stage, but sweating, drunk and exhausted from being nearly two hours into a live set, I walked up to the microphone and looked out at the expectant faces in the large function room, my Father and my new Step Mum still standing alone in the centre of the dance floor, looking at me as if to say “now is the time! You can do it! Improvise!” and I said something along the lines of:

“They say that before people decide whether to dance or not they judge this by the least ability of the people already on the dance floor and so if my Dad is dancing, then you all should be too…”

It was a scene reminiscent of Bilbo Baggins’ one hundred and eleventh birthday speech in the Lord of the Rings where he declares “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve” and the crowd looks on in confusion while they try and deconstruct the meaning and whether or not it was an insult. I say it was reminiscent of that, because in another way, it was nothing like that all, having none of the wit, charm or craftsmanship that Tolkien possessed in unfair quantities. The only bit that was similar, was the crowd looking back at me in confused indifference, trying to work out what I’d just said, and if it made any sense. Which, it didn’t.

I mean it could have done. In hindsight. Oh yes, in hindsight, given the 15 years or so since this happened and my development as a writer, I can look at this sentence and edit it down to the following: “If my Dad’s dancing, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. Have a dance.” Which isn’t really that funny either, but as light banter, would have been more succinct and may have raised a titter. It also has the added benefit of letting the audience fill in the blanks for themselves. It is implied that it is about ability, rather than force-fed, showing respect to their intelligence. To give credit to my Dad, he seemed to get the intent behind my garbled declaration and gave a pantomime look to the crowd as if to say “he’s right you know!”, although this may have actually been to say “I don’t know either… Maybe if you just come up and dance he won’t try and speak again.”

I was lucky really that no one took me to task on my comment. Thank God there were no hecklers at my Dad’s wedding. It wouldn’t have taken much. The first comment that springs to mind is, “Who says that?” as in, “Who says that before people decide to dance they judge the least ability of other people on the dance floor?” To which I would have had to reply, “I don’t know, just people, old wise people on a mountain somewhere…” and they may have said, “Why do they say that?” to which I could retort, “because I asked them – I anticipated that you would all spend more time inhaling bread sticks and tiramisu then you would listening to my band play for several hours at my own Dad’s wedding, and then come in here and sit watching us play it all again without even attempting to dance, and as such, I travelled to a wise man in Mongolia, yeah, Mongolia because it sounds mysterious and that’s where wise men on mountains live, and I found the wisest man, on the highest mountain, and I said to him – why is that people don’t dance sometimes? And he told me why. But to be sure, I went to the next highest mountain and found the next wisest man, and asked him the same, and he gave me the same answer. I repeated this exercise several times to make sure I had a consensus of opinion from multiple sources, hence why I referred to the plural ‘they’ in my rendering of this Eastern wisdom. It wasn’t just my panicking mind reaching desperately for an elusive third party with which to frame my witticism, it was the result of many months of hard travel and research.”

Of course, the next rebuke may have been, “but what does it mean? The order of the words you chose to speak, doesn’t really make sense does it Garry? They ‘judge the least ability’? Did you mean, they judge the ability of others dancing, and if they deem themselves to be similar or better, they may feel more comfortable and participate in the awkward social situation without fear of embarrassment?” to wit I would have to concede, “Yes, that’s basically what I meant, but as demonstrated by your lengthy interpretation of my intended observation, that doesn’t make for much of a snappy one liner to say between songs does it? So all I knew, was that I wanted to say something that meant the same as what you just said, but had to be shorter, which in my current heightened, adrenalin and alcohol fuelled mindset, I couldn’t quite achieve. I only hope that this protracted conversation with you, the imaginary heckler, has clarified this point to all the other guests here and we can move on from this unfortunate and ill conceived attempt at spontaneity and enjoy the rest of the evening…”

And I looked up from this exchange, feeling I had vindicated myself from any embarrassment or misunderstanding only to find that the room was now empty, the crowd, impatient as they were for me to stop talking to myself retrospectively from the future, had slinked off back to the next room, because a waiter had just brought out some more, hot, unidentifiable breaded goods that someone suspected was garlic mushrooms… And we all like garlic mushrooms don’t we? Except for those people who don’t. In fact, they say that those people who aren’t sure about breaded goods on a buffet judge themselves by the least ability of others to decide whether or not to eat them, don’t they? Yeah they do. That’s what ‘they’ say, and I know that because I went to Mongolia to ask them.

THE END.

Mosaic.

Today my band ‘Gravity Dave’ have made available an early mix of one of our original songs, ‘Mosaic’.

Now, I can sit here and tell you why you should listen to it, that it ‘rocks’ and suchlike (it does), but that’s not really what I’ve got this blog for.

So instead, I’m going to use this particular chunk of cyber space to look at the lyrics, do a bit of a self-critique and explanation of the process by which I get lyrics together. Of course this changes from song to song, but some elements remain constant throughout the process.

This may seem a little self-indulgent, but we all listen to and absorb song lyrics every day without giving them too much thought (unless they are particularly strong or controversial) and I would wager that a whole host of music lovers wouldn’t give much heed to poetry while still being able to recite the words to hundreds of their favourite songs. So today is an exploration of the lyric. And to top it all, you can listen to the song afterwards, if you like.

Ever remember school assemblies where the teacher would take the Lord’s Prayer line by line, examining the nuance and meaning of each word? Well, we did, every term. It was interesting (the first time around) and stopped it being a drone of syllables we all strung together in a lazy drawl every morning. Whatever your beliefs, whatever text you are studying are hearing, conscious awareness of the moment, the content and the context is much better than an apathetic wave of indistinct noises passing through you, passing by you.

Funnily enough, that scene, sitting cross-legged in a cold school hall, listening and learning, putting your hand up to be spoken to, taking it all in, forms the basis of ‘Mosaic’, as you can see in the first verse:

Dusty floors, cross legged and cold. Rusted doors, criss-cross windows. You clap and fall down.

                The ‘criss-cross’ windows are those safety glass door windows you get in public places, schools, hospitals and such like, where within the glass pane there is a black metal grid. Clapping and falling down, well, as I remember, there used to be several games like that.

Raise your hand, and comply. Understand, we’re all trying to not let you down my friends.

                Here we start to get the theme of the piece. This song started as an idea about conformity, the lack of critical thinking, the architects of our personalities from cradle to grave, concentrating on the most malleable time of our lives, school. In this case, primary school. Now I’m not saying I had a bad time at primary school, I didn’t, but I want to contrast the very ‘English’ Methodist school upbringing I had against the anxiety I often feel now, the world being as it is. It may have been okay for me, but education was very rigid, very set-in-its-ways, very, well English, I’ll say again.

On a technical note, when you hear the song, you’ll hear that the word ‘trying’ both forms the end of the line and the start of the next, split in half by the syllable’s. I like doing this, it’s fun.

So that’s the first verse. I’ve built on the theme I have in mind with the imagery of my school days. Onto the chorus.

We’d never say it but you are Mosaic, please stand far way and you’ll get the full picture.

                Now we get the first mention of the title, Mosaic. If memory serves me well, this was a natural progression from the preceding ‘we’d never say it’. It’s cool when you can get one word to rhyme with two or more others. Of course ‘say-it’ and ‘Mosaic’ are not true rhymes, rhyming as they do on the vowel sounds of the ‘a’ and ‘i’, but  it’s not tenuous and passes by the ear well I think.

Once I found the word ‘Mosaic’ (a great word, don’t you think?), the rest of the chorus can start to be constructed around it. Obviously, standing away to get the full picture is a feature of mosaic’s – close up they are just a senseless amalgam of shapes and colours.

We’d never risk it a broken statistic, we’ll stick to the past and the pain and the scripture.

You may have noticed that the voice changes in this section too. I’m now speaking as ‘the man’, as it were (such a hippy). This is not to blame anyone specifically, but our education system was provided to us at the whim and prudence of the wealthy and utilitarian. Although there are some great people doing great things to recognise and nurture individuality and critical reasoning, it is hardly the main aim of the system. No, let’s face it, the main aim of the system is to compartmentalise us into an economic unit and classification to enable statistics to be drawn and activities planned on a global scale. That’s just the truth of it, not even hidden. Now more than ever our kids are being ear-marked for their future demographic from the moment they walk into school. That’s why ‘we’d never say’ that you are a complex picture of many aspects, and not ‘risk’ producing a broken statistic (one that breaks out of the prescribed parameters), and we will stick to traditional teaching. The use of the word scripture here is just to reflect the lack of choice we had in our spiritual/religious teachings at school (or exploration of the alternatives). The ‘pain’ is a lyrical liberty, but can mean the net-effect of all these considerations.

We’re trying to reach you, to reach you, to reach you… etc..

This is the hook line of the chorus that I ‘ramp up’ from a chant to a high-scream! It is a mantra of education I think, I hear it a lot in interviews with various ministers. Simultaneously trying to ‘reach’ through and connect with the individual while trying to fit them into a starched curriculum. Onto verse two.

                Afternoon’s, bruised knees and fights, silver spoons, stay out of sight from playground kings.

Break-time! Everyone loved break-time right? Unless you were being bullied or what-not, and then it was shit. I went through patches of this. It’s not nice. When I moved to Stoke with my family aged 9, my accent was different. I was sometimes accused of being ‘posh’, which was funny seeing as I had moved further South from Scarborough, my parents were originally from Middleborough and Essex and from a ‘proper’ working class background. But kids are kids. This is just a hark back to the ‘rule of the playground’ where the kids who liked to taunt and bully roamed free, and the rest of us just tried to get on with it. Thankfully, the vast majority of us.

Broken bones, shattered by words, sticks & stones, don’t even hurt, don’t even sting, here comes the break…

Having said all that about ‘kids will be kids’, I’m sure some of you experienced the old ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ line when trying to tell an adult about some nasty piece of work giving you a hard time? I always thought it was a cop-out, I think I still do. Words are one of, if not the, most powerful weapon in our arsenal. They may not have the immediacy of weapons, but without them, there would be no weapons. I can hardly see us grunting our way to the discovery of combustion and ballistics. Language, words, as has been well described before by much greater minds than mine, just chip, chip away, constantly being  rearranged, altered, strung together and stored. Surges of meaning and revelation build over centuries, generations, and sometimes can spark in a moment and change everything. If you think that words can’t hurt, you are not giving them the reverence and respect they deserve. As for the ending line, that’s a little joke, it is both the ‘break’ of bones, and literally signalling the ‘break’ before the chorus.

Which brings us back to the chorus that in true rock/pop style, is a repeat of the first without deviation. This leads nicely into a musical outro that strips back the themes from the song and then builds them back up again into a climactic progression, underpinned by our drummers excellent tribal tom-tom backing.

Well, I enjoyed delving into that. Of course, when I wrote these words, I didn’t sit here and think of all this for each line. Generally, I start with either the theme or an interesting combination of words and then build it up from a mixture of ad-libbing at practice and good old graft with the pen and paper. My words are almost always led by rhyme, set within a context. That’s the challenge. Trying to find a word that fits without distorting the theme. On other occasions the song may be totally led by the sound of the words, purely for aural-aesthetic purposes. This leads to lyrics akin to Lennon’s ‘I am the Walrus’ and ‘Come together’. They are celebrations of words, loosely held together, but more for their own sake. I like this but you can’t do it all the time, not if you want to convey any coherent association of ideas at least occasionally in your art-form. It would be like only ever writing stream-of-conscious monologues forever, which although fun, lack poignancy and depth.

If you read this and enjoyed it, please, please take a listen to the track which all being well, should be posted below here. I am lucky to have such a talented group of guys working on these songs to set my words to. Musically I love this piece but am only responsible for the melody, my guitar parts and maybe the chords of the chorus… (can’t remember right now!) I could write a whole other blog on the musical construct of this song, but maybe I’ll save that for another piece, another time. Also, if you like it, give us a ‘like’ on Facebook (linked below) & reverbnation, there are plenty more songs coming and we gig regularly. Thank you.

Listen here:

http://www.reverbnation.com/gravitydave/song/18135122-mosaic-studio-demo

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